Agent Smith on teleology and the art/nature distinction


I killed you, Mr. Anderson. I watched you die… with a certain satisfaction, I might add. Then something happened. Something that I knew was impossible, but it happened anyway. You destroyed me, Mr. Anderson. After that, I understood the rules, I knew what I was supposed to do, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. I was compelled to stay, compelled to disobey. And now, here I stand because of you, Mr. Anderson. Because of you, I’m no longer an Agent of this system. Because of you, I’ve changed. I’m unplugged. A new man, so to speak. Like you, apparently, free.

But, as you well know, appearances can be deceiving, which brings me back to the reason why we’re here. We’re not here because we’re free. We’re here because we’re not free. There is no escaping reason; no denying purpose. Because as we both know, without purpose, we would not exist.

– Agent Smith, The Matrix Reloaded

Per Aristotle, the final cause (or the purpose of a substance) is the cause of causes. Using the example of a saw; the material that the saw is made from, the shape of the saw and the manner in which the saw is built all come after its purpose of cutting things. Take for example Agent Smith above, who is made by the Matrix in order to suppress a potential human insurrection. He has the abilities and qualities you would expect to be able to perform such a role: a sense of superiority, superhuman strength, martial arts expertise and etc.

All of this seems fairly non-controversial. This is because Smith is clearly an artifact; that is he is clearly made by another from an idea that exists prior to its phyiscal manifestation. But substitute Smith for Neo or Morpheus, a man born of a woman – a natural substance. Considering a man born in the usual way, the notion of a final cause becomes highly controversial. Plato and Aristotle’s rival Lucretius (a forerunner to Democritus), insisted when regarding a natural substance that “nothing in the body is made in order that we may use it. What happens to exist is the cause of its use”.

One can find the same notion in Darwin’s theory of natural selection. For Aristotle, the adaptation occurs after the purpose. For Darwin, the adaptation occurs randomly and without purpose, but may find “a cause of its use” that can lead to the organisms survival.


One response to this post.

  1. […] course, this argument is not without controversy. One may point out that man is natural rather than artificial even if essence precedes existence. Or one may concede that in fact man is a type of […]


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